Time and time again, the question is raised as to why the NFL is the most popular sport in America. If there was ever doubt as to why, Week 10 is enough justification.
The past weekend of football offered us no shortage of surprises, from monumental upsets to wild finishes to Aaron Rodgers fantasy football owners polishing their shrine to the Packers quarterback. The emotional roller coaster that the NFL brings us week in and week out was epitomized in Week 10, and it's something that deserves reflection.
On Thursday night, the Browns stampeded reigning AFC North champion Cincinnati to the tune of a 24-3 win. The upstart Browns rendered Andy Dalton and Co. scoreless over the final three quarters while Brian Hoyer continued to defy the odds by lifting Cleveland to a 6-3 record and - as of Monday morning - sole possession of first place in a division for the first time in over 19 years.
Sticking in the AFC North, no team has been hotter than the Steelers who, thanks to the revitalized play of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, instantly became the team many pointed to as the eventual division champion. Big Ben had thrown a record-setting 12 touchdowns over the past two games, and was poised to make it 18 against the Jets, losers of eight in a row. However, a Rex Ryan-coached defense showed up at MetLife Stadium Sunday while Michael Vick outperformed his counterpart, as Gang Green upset Pittsburgh 20-13 to further shake up the AFC playoff picture.
A back-and-forth battle between two NFC heavyweights took place in the Crescent City, as the Saints - winners of 11 in a row at the Superdome - welcomed in a reeling 49ers club. San Francisco, though, looked dominant in the early going, moving ahead 14-3 in the first quarter and 21-10 by halftime. But Drew Brees and Co. would not go down quietly, marching back to eventually take a lead with about five minutes remaining thanks to a second Jimmy Graham touchdown catch. But a miraculous fourth-down completion to Michael Crabtree set the stage for Phil Dawson to send the game into overtime. With the clock winding down, a Brees fumble set Dawson up with a chance to be a hero, and he was, giving the Niners a much-needed road win over the Saints to remain in thick of the NFC playoff hunt.
And in the nightcap Sunday evening, Aaron Rodgers threw not one, not two, but six touchdown passes before halftime against the arch-rival Bears en route to an eventual 55-14 rout. Not only is the win huge for Green Bay's chances of overtaking Detroit in the NFC North, but looms large for its Wild Card position, too. On the contrary, it begs the question of whether Chicago elects to move on from either quarterback Jay Cutler or head coach Marc Trestman, or even both after the season.
Those were a handful of the tremendous contests that took place in Week 10, providing the ups and downs of any classic football game. Who would have predicted Hoyer and the Browns would be in first place in the AFC North come Monday morning? Who thought Vick would be the hero after the Jets and Steelers squared off? Who thought Rodgers would strap on his State Farm Discount Double Check belt six times before the half? And who would've predicted the 49ers would snap the Saints' lengthy home-game win streak?
But it's just a reminder that as far as sports go, it's hard to rival the emotions invoked by the NFL. It goes without saying that this league brings no shortage of surprises on a week in, week out basis, that keeps us on our toes. There's no predicting how any game goes, because there's always the constant element of "any given Sunday" involved.
Week 10 perfectly embodied that cliche, but did so by giving us arguably the best weekend of football this season. It's a weekend like this that begs the question: "Is it Week 11 yet?"
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